Focus Lecture 3

Posted on : July 4, 2015

Centres of diversity, platforms for evolution:
On margins and mobility in language practices in the global knowledge economy

Lisa Lim
The University of Hong Kong


In traditional sociolinguistics and the old world order we find exonormative standards and prestige forms which hop from one urban centre to another. In the global knowledge economy, these centres no longer hold; periphery and diversity become valued. I discuss 3 trends that I see happening that need to be appreciated for their significance in the language practices of this era. First, I discuss computer-mediated communication (CMC) as a platform on which language practices beyond that considered the ‘standard’ or those used in the original, local context are allowed, even favoured. For instance, in the CMC of multilingual communities, significantly more code mixing with and calqueing into English are found compared to spoken discourse, and diasporic web-based communities of practice use their creole variety more than in traditional writing of spoken face-to-face interaction. Such a platform and its practices support the evolution and positioning of contact languages such as New Englishes and creoles. Second, I highlight the multicultural city, in the context of the growing phenomenon of urban linguistic diversity, as an important site for documenting and analysing minority and endangered languages, and discuss its significance for research, education and activism. Finally, I consider how, in late capitalism, multicultural, peripheral communities – even with a shift from their ancestral language – not only are able to maintain postvernacular vitality, but can also be positioned as a source of multilingualism and authenticity, with much to offer the centre. What were traditionally communities and language practices on the margins are increasingly valued for their diversity and authenticity, and can be significant agents in evolution and mobility in the global knowledge economy.


Lisa Lim is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Language and Communication programme in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong. Her current research focuses on: contact varieties of English in multilingual ecologies of Asia, such as Singapore and Hong Kong; issues of language shift, endangerment and revitalisation in minority and endangered language communities, such as the Peranakans in Singapore and the Sri Lankan Malays; and the sociolinguistics of globalisation, with interests in mobility, urban multiculturalism, computer-mediated communication, and their impact on language contact. She has co-edited volumes on The Typology of Asian Englishes (English World-Wide, 2009) and Multilingual Globalising Asia: Issues for Policy and Education (AILA Review 22, 2009), and contributed entries to The Electronic World Atlas of Varieties of English (eWAVE) and The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structure (APiCS), as well as to several Handbooks and Encyclopaedia. She was part of the team working on Sri Lanka Malay, supported by the Volkswagen Stiftung’s initiative for the documentation of endangered languages (2004-2009), and she recently brought to completion a project on The Ecology and Evolution of Asian Englishes, funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (2012-2015). Her book (co-authored with Umberto Ansaldo) on Languages in Contact will be published by Cambridge University Press in late 2015. She actively engages in knowledge transfer, and has developed the online resource, for which she won the Faculty of Arts’ Knowledge Exchange Award 2014.

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